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Piroulette: A Machine That Predicts Your Last Words 


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Piroulette: A Machine That 

Predicts Your Last Words 

Written By: Shawn Wallace 


Bare Bones Board (1) 

LCD117 Breakout Board with LCD (1) 

Six-pin extension cables (2) 


In the Spring of 201 1 I worked on a project with artists Steve Hanson and Elliot Clapp that 
was part of Apexart's "Let it end like this" group show curated by Todd Zuniga. Steve created 
a generative questionnaire that polled gallery-goers and presented them with their Last 
Words. An interactive pushbutton console and LCD was built by Elliot (pictured above) and 
we built the thing using an inexpensive Arduino variant from Modern Device. Here's how we 
did it. 

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Piroulette: A Machine That Predicts Your Last Words 

• Piroulette sits quietly on a 

pedestal, its backlight pulsing as it 
waits for someone to interact with 
it. When the select button is 
pressed, it begins asking a series 
of questions such as "Which of the 
following lines would open your 
personal manifesto?" A, B and C 
options are presented on separate 
screens, which the user can 
navigate with the buttons. At the 
end, your last words are generated 
from a list of a hundred or so poetic 

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Piroulette: A Machine That Predicts Your Last Words 

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Piroulette: A Machine That Predicts Your Last Words 

• Elliot designed the console in 
Illustrator and used the laser cutter 
at AS220 Labs to machine the 
black plexiglass and oak side 
panels. The laser cutter he used 
can cut up to quarter-inch wood, so 
the side panels were doubled up 
and joined with glue. This allowed 
for hidden slots for the plexiglass 
and bottom panel. 

• The bottom panel slides to reveal 
the electronics. We used a Bare 
Bones Board from Modern Device. 
This is a great low-cost option for 
embedding a microcontroller in a 

• The LCD panel was also from 
Modern Device. A LCD117 
breakout board (with a pre- 
programmed PIC microcontroller 
on it) allowed us to easily send 
strings to the LCD. 

• Three buttons are wired into the 
console: Back, Select, and 
Forward. Each button also has a 
controllable blue LED mounted 
below that pulses to give visual 
hints to the user. 

• For convenience we used a a 
couple of six-wire extension 
cables. One pair of cables went to 
each button and one pair went to 
each LED. Pre-crimped cables are 
the way to go. 

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Piroulette: A Machine That Predicts Your Last Words 


wrev 0.4 Bt+li 


• The LCD1 17 serial LCD board was 
created by Peter Anderson. It 
implements a simple LCD 
command language that he 
created. The Arduino sends strings 
and control characters to the 
LCD1 17 over a 9600 baud software 
serial connection. 

• The full command set is available 
with the docs for the board. 

• Another option would be to use the 
Arduino LCD library. In this case I 
just went with what I knew. :) 

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Piroulette: A Machine That Predicts Your Last Words 


\£ \£ ^ ^ ^ 

Always Test Select Back Forward 
button button button 

• Download the Arduino sketch 
Piroulette.pde here . 

• Note the use of the PROGMEM 
variable modifier, which allows you 
to store text strings in program 
memory (of which there is 32k) 
instead of SRAM (only 2k). This is 
described in the excerpt from the 
Arduino Cookbook posted on the 
Make Blog. 

• The program implements a simple 
state machine (left), which I think 
is an easy way to whip up 
something like this quickly without 
introducing too many bugs. 

• Here 's a Perl script to help you turn 
a big list of strings in a file (one to 
a line) into the requisite 
PROGMEM code. 

This document was last generated on 201 2-1 1 -02 01 :1 0:50 AM. 

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